Vancouver Island has so many amazing activities that it’s almost impossible to pick a list of the top things to do. Whether it involves eating and drinking, heart pumping adventures, getting back to nature, or basking in incredible scenery, everyone will find something to fall in love with on Vancouver Island. In fact, there isn’t a bad time to come, as there’s a top activity fit for every season. Rain or shine, there’s something wonderful waiting on Vancouver Island.
Blessed with a mountain range and beautiful forests, the hiking is both extensive, and easily one of the top things to do on Vancouver Island. Short and sweet, challenging mountain summits, overnight trips, beach treks, flat, steep… You name it and Vancouver Island has it. No matter what part of the Island you’re visiting – whether it’s the Pacific Rim, central Island, Campbell River, or past Port Hardy – there is a stunning hike lying in wait. Some of the most famous include Cape Scott, the Juan de Fuca Trail and the trek to Della Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Canada.
To find the perfect trail, visit our hiking page here.
Vancouver Island is blessed with a one-with-nature vibe that brings a sense of connection to locals and visitors. So much life exists within the thriving rainforests and healthy waters that seeing the Island’s stunning creatures firsthand has become one of the top things to do. Whale watching tours take to the Pacific Ocean, where humpbacks, gray whales, orcas, porpoises and plenty of other magnificent creatures pass through, or call home. Bear watching tours take guests to see black bears and grizzly bears tumble and play as fresh cubs in the spring, or feast on salmon in the fall.
For those into birding, the Island is a paradise of different breeds and species, providing shelter to many on their migrations. Snorkeling with spawning salmon in Campbell River gives insight into the incredible life within the rivers of the coast, and drivers keep sharp eyes out for the elegant deer that are a common feature everywhere on the Island. Visiting Vancouver Island creates a new respect for the fragile line that humans walk on between urban and wild. Nothing builds that respect more than taking a trip to safely view all that the Island was blessed with.
With 3400km of coastline, Vancouver Island is riddled with fishing towns, quaint harbours and plenty of boats. Naturally, fishing is a top thing to do when it comes to the coast. From Campbell River and Port Hardy, to Port Alberni and Ucluelet, there are tons of different types of fish to be caught, and plenty of different styles of fishing. While the rivers of Port Alberni and Bamfield see incredible Sockeye salmon runs – a fly fisherman’s dream – the west coast of Vancouver Island is a hotspot for chinook and coho salmon fishing, as well as halibut fishing and ling cod. From the coastal towns, plenty of skilled fishermen who have been on the water for as long as they can remember run fishing charters. Locals and visitors alike head out during peak season to fill up their freezers with fresh salmon for the winter. Plus, it’s tons of fun to reel in the big one!
For more on fishing on Vancouver Island, check out our page here.
The waters surrounding Vancouver Island are filled with even more islands, which are a delight to explore by kayak. Whether departing from Victoria, Campbell River, Telegraph Cove, Ucluelet, Tofino, or Bamfield, a kayaking expedition on the West Coast has plenty of treasures in store. Even just a harbour paddle is a delightful way to spend the day. Exploring the North Island takes visitors into the Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago, which are notorious as whale territory. Orcas (killer whales), humpbacks and Dahl’s porpoises call the strait home, making whale watching another top thing to do in the North Island. Departing from Campbell River gives access to the Discovery Islands, the most popular of which are Cortes and Quadra. Here, year-round recreation, beautiful vistas and plenty of ocean animals like whales and seals can be seen. Victoria and Sidney give way to the Gulf Islands, where fantastic paddling conditions, sea creatures and stunning scenery await. Last, but not least, Tofino and Ucluelet on the West Coast allow paddlers to explore the stunning harbours and coastline, or head out to Barkley Sound and the Broken Group Islands, where over 100 islands and islets lead the way to endless exploration. Farther abroad are the Deer Group Islands, perfect for more seasoned paddlers, where fantastic rock formations and private beaches sit on incredible islands.
With so much territory to explore, it’s only natural that kayaking would be a top thing to do on Vancouver Island. There’s something for every type of paddler, and are outfitters that do rentals, lessons and tours nearly everywhere along the coast.
Canadians are rumored to show no fear when it comes to cold weather. That’s why it should be no surprise that when it comes to the Pacific Ocean, those on the West Coast of Vancouver Island dive right in. Although Vancouver Island has admittedly mild weather compared to other parts of Canada, the Pacific Ocean can still be frigid, especially considering the best waves are often in the winter. Fit with wetsuits, surfers flock to Tofino to get their share of the swell. In fact, Tofino is labelled the unofficial Surf Capital of Canada. Besides surfing, Tofino and its neighbor, Ucluelet, are top destinations thanks to their endless beaches, incredible hikes through stunning temperate rainforest, unique historical culture and laidback vibe. Between the two, there are plenty of surf shops and places to sign up for lessons. The beaches provide waves for every type of surfer, from the most skilled, who live for the big winter swell, to first timers finding soft summer waves at some of the best beginner beaches in the world. It’s said that if you learn to surf in Tofino, you can surf anywhere. Other places to surf on Vancouver Island are on the south end, including Sombrio and Jordan River.
While plenty have heard of Whistler on the mainland, Vancouver Island also has a couple great ski resorts to its name, making skiing and snowboarding some of the top things to do. The most established resort is Mount Washington, located about thirty minutes outside of the Comox Valley. With an epic average snowfall of 38 feet and over 1700 acres of terrain to enjoy, it’s the Island’s largest, year-round playground. Five lifts suit the needs of every level of mountain-goer and the mountain’s amenities create the perfect ski vacation. There’s also a Nordic lodge, with access to even more terrain for cross country skiing and snow shoeing adventures. An alternative to Mount Washington is Mount Cain just outside of Campbell River. While smaller, with fewer amenities and limited days, Mount Cain has fantastic snow, and a great outback for exploration.
With easy access to so much terrain that gets doused with amazing snow, it’s no wonder locals and visitors alike find skiing and snowboarding to be their go-to winter activity on Vancouver Island.
When the snow melts and summer reaches the mountains, there’s one activity in particular that takes to the trails, and no, it isn’t hiking. Mountain biking is one of the top things to do in Vancouver Island, and there are plenty of places to do it. Most famous, perhaps, is Cumberland, where endless, well-kept trails of every imaginable skill level wait nestled into the Beaufort Range within view of the Comox Glacier. Ending a perfect ride at Comox Lake is a treat, and pints and pizza flow at the popular brewery, Cumberland Brewing Co. Forbidden Plateau offers fantastic, single-track descents, and Hornby Island is an untapped haven of awesome trails. Mount Washington, Comox Valley’s winter go-to, also has some epic trails and features, acting as the only chairlift accessible mountain bike playground on the Island. Farther north, Campbell River has plenty of places to play for bikers of all levels.
For more details on the different areas to mountain bike on Vancouver Island, as well as directions, take a peek at our mountain biking page!
If wine tasting creates images of rolling vineyards in endless sunshine paired with one expensive plane ticket to Italy or California, think again. Vancouver Island and especially the Cowichan Valley are as fantastic of wine tasting destinations as the rest! The word “Cowichan” means the warm lands, hinting at the area’s temperate climates that allow, aside from plenty of fruitful farms, lush vineyards of grapes. Across the Island, nearly 30 vineyards await with tasting rooms, bistros, and plenty of nature’s nectar to delve into. Of course, any activity where all that’s required is to enjoy the ride and drink amongst beautiful scenery is one for the books.
Vancouver Island possesses a temperate climate, which makes for perfect farming conditions. From farms, comes farmer’s markets, and nearly every town on Vancouver Island has at least one. Duncan, a town in the Cowichan Valley, was labeled as having the Top Farmer’s Market in British Columbia – a pretty big title, all things considered. Courtenay, in the Comox Valley is a hotspot on Saturdays, and the smaller islands like Salt Spring and Quadra are notorious for their homemade finds. Victoria has several throughout the city, and every market seems to have a few things in common: a fresh array of amazing vegetables, artisan goods, homemade crafts and an unbeatable, wholesome vibe. To feel like a local and score some amazing goodies, while sampling all along the way, a visit to any of the Farmer’s Markets on Vancouver Island is a must. So much goodness in one place had to make it as a top thing to do – find the closest one on our map page here!
Summer in paradise is great, but some special things are saved just for winter. The West Coast of Vancouver Island has something tucked away, and it is easily one of the top reasons to visit Vancouver Island during the off-season. Storm watching in Ucluelet and Tofino is picking up in popularity, and for a good reason. Not only are accommodation cheaper, with luxury, ocean view resorts and cozy forest cabins dropping to nearly half price, but Mother Nature is putting on one of her most powerful shows. Donning rain gear, visitors flock to the Wild Pacific Trail, or any of Tofino’s beaches and Ucluelet’s rugged coastline to watch the waves. With gale force winds, sometimes upwards of 70km an hour, incredible waves of over 15 feet collide with the coast in a show of fierce sea spray. Whether watching from the comfort of a wood fire next to an ocean view window, or standing back from the edge with piles of layers and raingear, experiencing the power of the coast in winter is humbling and exciting. In fact, plenty of locals and visitors think winter is the best time to be in Ucluelet, Tofino and on Vancouver Island.
Unknown to many, Vancouver Island is actually considered to be one of the top cold-water diving destinations in the world. Sunken ships and airplanes have created new reefs, and thriving kelp forests are filled with incredible ocean-life. Areas like God’s Pocket and Browning Passage are chock full of endless exploration, although they’re typically reserved for divers with extensive experience. For any adventurer with a desire for diving, Vancouver Island should definitely be on the list.
The top things to do on Vancouver Island encompass a wide range of interests, seasons and adventure levels. With so much to do, see and try, a visit will build memories to last a lifetime. All you need to do is jump in and get ready to discover Vancouver Island.